WHAT THE HELL DO I ACTUALLY DO?
I write comic books for a living.
When I tell that to an average, non-comic-reading person, like someone I might meet at a party or sit next to on an airplane, they generally have little to no idea of what it actually means.
“You mean you draw?” they sometimes ask.
“No, I can’t draw for shit,” I reply. “I write a script, and then someone else draws it.”
“Oh,” they say, still a bit confused and no doubt assuming that whatever it is I actually do with my time each day, it’s likely something I as an adult should be a bit more embarrassed by.
Those of you reading this column most likely have a much better idea of what writing comics for a living actually entails. Nevertheless, before we go any further with this weekly exploration of where the hell I am, let’s break down exactly what the hell it is I’m doing with my life.
Here’s a recap of a recent work week:
Monday, September 6
Hey, it’s Labor Day. That means I get a paid holiday, right? Nope, sorry, no such thing as paid holidays when you’re a freelance writer. Gotta start breaking down a new “Scalped” script. First thing, I break open my “Scalped” “Master” file. Some guys keep actual notebooks full of scribbled notes. Others organize ideas on notecards. Me, I just dump everything into a big Word file on my laptop. Arc breakdowns. Issue outlines. Random scenes. Bits of dialogue. I just throw it all together and sort it out as I go.
I get everything I need for this issue together and start to dive into the business of breaking it down page by page…and then say fuck it, it’s a holiday. I go take my family out for ice cream.
The great thing about working from home is, of course, that you get to set your own hours. But when that line between work life and home life is blurred, it can also lead to you working way more hours than you would if you were employed in a regular nine to five job. It’s good to know when to step away.
Tuesday, September 7
I break down an issue of “Scalped.” I start by just numbering 1 through 22 and writing a brief description of each page. Knowing the beats I’m gonna need from each conversation or confrontation or whatever, I can usually guess how many pages I’ll need for each scene. Sometimes the scene changes as I write it though, and I reshuffle. Once I have my breakdown, I just start building from there. I go through page by page and break it down a little further, figuring out how many panels I need on each page and writing brief panel descriptions. When I come to a big conversation, I’ll write all the dialogue straight-through, in one big lump, and then break it up into panels after I’m done. I go through the whole script like this, and by the time I’m done, the heavy lifting of writing is pretty much done. Sometimes that process takes a day. Sometimes longer. Oftentimes it involves me wondering around the house, talking to myself, saying my dialogue out loud.
In general, my entire writing process remains a work in progress.
My schedule is very different now than it was even a year ago, let alone when I was first getting started five years ago, and if you ask me again a year from now, it may be just as different again. I’m not as fast or efficient as I would like to be, let alone as good. I think I know my strengths and my weaknesses at this point, and I certainly see plenty of room for improvement. The biggest difference in my writing process now and this time a year ago is that I finally have a long, uninterrupted period of time in which to work. I have a five year old son, and I quit my last day job when he was born, so as he’s grown up, so has my comic career. For the longest time, I would have to grab a few hours of work here and there, whenever I could, when he was at daycare or taking a nap. Now my son has a full day at a Montessori school, which means I get a full day of work. My son is the most amazing little guy you could imagine and I love him with all my heart, but it’s impossible for me to get work done when he’s around. Balancing writing with being a parent is something I think a lot of creators struggle with, and it’s something I’d like to talk about in more length in a later column. For now I’ll just say, Montessori fucking rocks.
Still, even with all that time in which to work, I have good days and bad days. Good weeks and bad weeks. Sometimes I can churn out a script in a couple of days. Other times it takes me the whole week.
“Scalped” has gotten to be easier to write than most anything I do, if for no other reason than I’ve written so many more of them than I have anything else.
Anyway, I spend the day breaking down the issue, and by the time I go to pick up my son, the issue’s done, though just in a very bare form.
I also turn in a “Wolverine” back-up story I finished over the weekend and field emails and phone calls from editors and artists, going over future story notes, making suggestions for who should draw an upcoming issue, debating a moment from a PUNISHER script, scheduling an interview for next week and offering any notes on incoming pages from two different artists (No notes needed. The pages look terrific.).
Wednesday, September 8
I start putting the finishing touches on the “Scalped” script. I start over from page 1 again and just build onto the framework I laid down yesterday, completing the panel descriptions, polishing the dialogue.
I also make more notes on other pages coming in, buy a plane ticket for my New York Comic Con trip next month and respond to folks online who dug my first column on CBR (thanks for reading!).
I have lunch with Harold Sipe, another KC-area comic creator, writer of the amazing “Screamland” from Image. Always good to get out of the house and socialize with people who do the same thing you do. It’s something you take for granted when you work a regular office job. When you work from home, you have to make the effort. Luckily, Kansas City is home to a whole bunch of comic creators, many of whom I actually like, and we often get together to gorge on the best barbecue in the world and to talk shit about creators from other cities (I’m looking at you, Portland).
I have a great chat with Harold and he even picks up the tab for lunch. Score! This is the best Wednesday ever!
No, wait, no new comics this week because of the holiday. That means no hanging out at my local comic shop (Elite Comics in Overland Park. You’re welcome, William) like I do most every Wednesday.
Guess I’ll just stay home and wash my beard. With tears.
Thursday, September 9
I finish the “Scalped” script, though I’ll sit on it until tomorrow, so I can give it another read in the morning. Good to be able to give it a little time to stew like that when you can. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the luxury. Right now, I have eight different art teams working on scripts of mine. That’s eight different groups of folks who all depend on me doing my part so they can do theirs. If I’m late, they can’t work, they can’t get paid. I don’t ever want to be the guy keeping someone else from getting paid. That more than anything else is my motivation for not being late.
Already I’m looking ahead to next week when I’ll need to jump a few issues ahead and write another issue of “Scalped” so as to get a ninth artist working. One thing a lot of comic writers do that you may not realize: we write out of sequence.
Like with the new “Wolverine” series that just launched. For that, I first wrote issues #1 and #2. But then I skipped ahead and wrote #6, so a different artist could get working on that second arc. Then I came back and wrote #3. Next I’ll jump back to issue #7. Writers who are able to churn out whole arcs and get far ahead don’t have to worry about this (the fast-writing sons of bitches). The rest of us do. So not only do I have to switch each week from writing an issue of “Scalped” to writing an issue of “Punisher” or “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine,” but I also sometimes have to jump around to different issues within the same series.
It’s not ideal, but it’s the way it is. Again, ask me a year from now and I’ll hopefully be six months ahead on everything I’m writing. For now, I most definitely ain’t.
I do work awfully hard though to make my first drafts as solid as they can be, so it’s been a while since I’ve had to do any extensive rewrites on anything (knock on wood). Right now, that’s all that’s saving me from completely losing my mind.
“Scalped” done, I jump into the next thing. An issue of an as-yet-unannounced new Marvel gig. This one should be revealed at NYCC, I think. Can’t say more ’til then. Moving on.
Friday, September 10
I turn in “Scalped,” keep breaking down the issue of the secret gig and also do some lettering corrections. Usually the week a book is going to print, I’ll get a PDF of the lettered art to go over and make any corrections I wanna make. Tweak the dialogue, that sort of thing. It’s always exciting to read that lettered copy for the first time, to see the whole thing coming together. Usually this is the only time I read the comics I write.
Friday evening, I board a plane to San Francisco. I’ve got a signing to go to.
Saturday, September 11
It’s actually 3 AM Sunday morning when the lights finally go out on the party at The Isotope and I’m escorted back to my hotel, hoarse, exhausted and more than a little bit drunk. Owners James Sime and Kirsten Baldock have been unbelievably gracious hosts, and the signing/party was a roaring success. The place was packed, and I did nothing but sign and talk and drink for hours. One of the best appearances I’ve ever done.
Tired now. In a few hours I’ll be boarding a plane to fly back home. Sleep.
Sunday, September 12
I spend most of the day at airports, trying to catch glimpses of the Steelers game and check stats for my fantasy football teams. I read one of Richard Stark’s Parker books. I start working on this column. Tomorrow, I’ll have to get up and finish work on the secret new script, then do lettering corrections for an issue of “Wolverine” and then move on to the next thing, and the next, and the next.
Hopefully each issue I write will be better than the one before it.
Hopefully each week will be as satisfying as this one.